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Soundcraft Spirit Studio LC

Multitrack Mixer By Paul White
Published April 1994

Soundcraft's new mixer attempts to combine budget pricing with a level of performance capable of doing justice to the new breed of digital multitrack machines. Paul White finds out how well it succeeds.

Just in case you hadn't noticed, there's a war going on in the mixer market, and though most wars end in tears from at least one of the involved parties, in this instance, the clear winner is the prospective purchaser. Soundcraft have already set their Spirit Folio range against the likes of Mackie, and now the battle for the middle ground has taken a new turn with the launch of the Spirit Studio LC. The LC is essentially an 8‑buss recording console available in three fixed frame sizes: 16, 24 or 32. The routing follows the familiar split system. with the Group faders in their traditional place at the right of the console, while the in‑line monitor section controls reside in the channel strips. This layout, first made popular by the Seck 18:8:2 a decade or so ago, has been universally adopted in virtually all low‑ and mid‑priced home recording consoles. Indeed, it can be argued that everybody now knows what makes the perfect console — the designer's job is less a matter of innovation and more a matter of deciding what they can get away with leaving off to meet their target selling price. Because the LC is pitched at the low‑cost end of the market, something obviously had to give, but even so, I was pleasantly surprised both by the facilities provided and by the overall electrical performance of the console.

Physically, the LC is a relatively compact, flat‑topped mixer with all the connections mounted on the back panel. This has an obvious disadvantage if you don't use a patchbay, as you have to go around the back of the mixer every time you want to repatch — but then with a mixer of this size and complexity, a patchbay would be a good idea anyway. The plus side to having all the cables around the back is that you can keep your setup tidy. Power from the console comes from a robust external power supply which is not fan cooled, so there's no noise problem.

If there's one thing everyone is crying out for, it's more inputs, and one of the strengths of an in‑line mixer is that you can double your available line inputs at mixdown by pressing the monitor channels into service as additional line ins. As a bonus, the LC has no fewer than seven additional stereo inputs for use as returns or further line inputs, and when you add these to a couple of less obvious ways of getting a signal into the mix (such as the stereo submix input and the stereo tape return), the 32‑channel LC can be persuaded to mix a maximum of 82 inputs.

The Inevitable Channel

The console isn't modular in the traditional sense, though each block of eight input channels has its own section of front panel. To conserve space, many of the channel controls are arranged in a zig‑zag fashion, again reminiscent of the old Seck, and the colour‑coded control knobs are all quite small.

Each channel has a Flip switch, so that you can move from recording to remixing without repatching; during recording, the mixer input feeds into the main channel path, with the off‑tape signal being fed into the monitor path. On mixdown, this is reversed so that the tape machine feeds through the main signal path and the monitor path is fed from the channel's line input. All channels have a choice of balanced mic or balanced line input and the mic inputs have individually switchable 48V phantom powering. Insert points and multitrack send and returns are included for each input strip. The tape input is switchable between ‑10dBv or +4dBu operating levels, via a small switch on the underside of the console, which means that both pro and semi‑pro recorders can be accommodated. Soundcraft seem fond of ground‑compensated outputs which, although not truly balanced, do offer many of the benefits of a balanced output, including a useful degree of resistance to ground loop hum.

Though the LC is an 8‑bus console, each channel's ground‑compensated tape output may be fed either from the corresponding Group or directly from the channel. The provision of Group/Direct switching means that 16‑track, or even 24‑track, recording can be handled with very few compromises, even when many tracks are being recorded simultaneously. The theoretical maximum is 32 tracks for the 32‑channel desk, but I feel that would be pushing things a little.

To give the most flexibility in routing, Group 1 doesn't just feed the Tape Out from channel 1 but also that of channels 9, 17 and 25 (in the case of the 32‑channel version). Similarly, Group 2 is available on channel 2, channel 10 and so on. This isn't a new idea, but it does mean that Groups can be routed to any number of tape machine inputs without the need to repatch.

If this console has an Achilles heel, it must be its EQ section. Rather than providing a 4‑band equaliser which can be split between the main and monitor signal paths if necessary, Soundcraft have opted for a simpler 3‑band system. This has swept Mid and Low sections, plus a conventional shelving Hi control operating at 12kHz. All three bands have a range of plus or minus 15dB and the mid range control extends from 250Hz to 8kHz. The low‑frequency range is from 25Hz to 400Hz. Personally, I feel the mid control should have extended down to 150Hz to make it really useful, but even as it stands, this is a flexible and musical equaliser. Where it falls down is that there's no way to share it with the monitor path. However, there is an EQ cut switch and a switchable 100Hz bass roll‑off filter.

If the EQ section is slightly compromised, no such criticism can be levelled at the Aux section. The channel features six dedicated Aux send controls, the first two with pre/post switching. Aux 3‑6 are fixed post‑fader, and Aux 2 and 3 may be separately switched into either main or monitor signal path as required. A novel link function in the Master section allows Aux 3 and 4 to be linked so that the same effects unit can be accessed from the main signal path and the monitor path. Aux 5 and 6 may be switched as a pair to Aux busses 7 and 8 and all post‑fade sends are also post‑EQ. If the monitor signal path isn't needed on mixdown, the monitor controls can function as an additional stereo send, bringing the total number of possible sends up to 10.

Cut buttons are provided for both channel signal paths, and the main signal path is equipped with PFL/Solo; the monitor path has a PFL button. The monitor section is otherwise very straightforward, with just level and pan controls. Conventional routing buttons send the channel signal to odd/even bus pairs or to the stereo mix, with the Pan control being used to steer between odd and even Groups. Each channel has a peak LED which warns of impending clipping, and the channel Cut switch also has an associated red warning LED.

Master Section

The layout of the Master section is very clean cut, with the eight Aux send Master level controls arrayed along the top of the panel just above the meters. The design includes all the obvious functions, plus one or two nice touches, including a dedicated submix input specifically designed to make life easy when using the LC with an external submixer. And, not surprisingly, the manual suggests that a Folio might make a suitable choice in this role! The Submix has its own stereo input (which could be used as another stereo return if not needed for its intended purpose), and three of the console's stereo return points are to be found in the Submix section. The headphone switching allows the Submix input to be monitored separately, and a routing control enables the user to send the Submix to the monitor mix (Mix B) if required. PFL is fitted, allowing the user to monitor the Submix input in isolation.

The Group section houses the usual Group Master level faders which, in this case, may be routed into the stereo mix in pairs by means of switches located above the respective fader pairs. All eight faders are equipped with PFL buttons.

There are four stereo inputs in the Master section (in addition to the three returns in the Subgroup section) and, unusually, these are balanced and switchable between +4dBu and ‑10dBv operating levels. These inputs may also be mixed into the studio headphone monitoring system, providing an easy way to add effects to the performer's cue mix. Another useful tweak is appreciated when the stereo returns are used as inputs for instruments: it's possible, via the A4 button, to give these inputs access to send busses 3 or 4, which makes it easy to add effects to any signals being fed in via this route. Each stereo input may be routed either to the Group directly below it or to the stereo mix, and each has its own PFL button. Because the four stereo inputs are available for any line‑level application (not just effects), they have been fitted with short fader control rather than the more usual knobs, which is a nice touch.

The master section also houses the master faders, but not a pair of faders for the left and right outputs as you might expect. There are two stereo faders with yellow caps — one for the main stereo mix and one for the Mix B or monitor mix output. The main fader also has the benefit of a balance control for those users who invariably have to tweak the overall left/right balance at the master faders. Insert points are provided on the Mix B outputs as well as on all channels, Groups and the main stereo outputs.

In addition to the engineer's headphone output, there's a welcome studio headphone system designed to provide a cue mix for the musicians. This has a line output on two jacks to drive a studio headphone amp, and the control room monitor amp outputs are also on stereo jacks which, for most users, is more convenient than XLRs. The studio headphone feed can be any mix of Aux 1, Aux 2 and the control room monitor signal. Unusually, the control room phones can't be used at the same time as the control room monitors; plugging in a pair of phones automatically cuts off the monitors.

Inevitably, something has to give at this price, and in the case of the LC it's monitor EQ. The 3‑band EQ provided resides permanently in the main signal path; there's no way to split it or to switch it wholesale into the monitor path.

The control room monitor source buttons aren't interlocked, so it is possible to feed the monitors from more than one source if desired. The three switchable sources are the main stereo mix, Mix B and the 2‑track return. A single level control sets the control room monitor volume and there's a Mono switch for checking the mono compatibility of mixes and a Dim switch for dropping the gain while you swear at the drummer.

Though there's no meter bridge, there are separate, 12‑segment, three‑colour, peak‑reading LED bargraph meters for all eight Groups and for the main stereo outs. The rightmost meter is also used to display levels when in Solo mode, so that the channel input trims can be set accurately. A master PFL/AFL LED indicates that a Solo button is down somewhere on the console, and a test oscillator is included, which can generate 1kHz and 10kHz sine tones for slating tapes or for tape machine calibration. However, as there's no 100Hz tone, it isn't possible to do a full tape machine calibration using this oscillator.

There's also a talkback system with a built‑in electret mic that permits the engineer to talk to Groups, Phones or Mix, the latter setting automatically dimming the control room level to avoid feedback. All three Talkback destination buttons are non‑latching (to avoid embarrassment when you slag off the bass player!), and a separate Talkback level control is fitted.


Soundcraft have taken care not to compromise the electrical performance of the LC — indeed, on paper, the spec is a dB or two better than many competing desks. The use of balanced and ground‑compensated connections also helps avoid ground loop problems, but to reap the benefits of this, you do have to wire your cables as shown in the manual rather than relying on the odd jack leads you have lying around. Crosstalk appears to be low, though I did detect a little breakthrough to the control room monitor output with the master faders right down. However, the amount of breakthrough to the main stereo outputs, which is what really matters, seemed much less and was well below the level at which it might cause concern.

In virtually all respects, this console seems to be the result of clear, logical thinking; it acknowledges the fact that people often need to use submixers, it caters for those who want to share one effects unit between the main and Mix B signal paths, and it provides plenty of Aux sends and stereo returns. Furthermore, the routing is both logical and very flexible.

Bearing in mind my previous comments regarding the EQ, as 3‑band equalisers go it's both flexible and positive, but having got used to 4‑band equalisers, I'm often frustrated by the way 3‑band systems of this type don't let you apply mid‑range cut below 250Hz at the same time as you're applying bass boost.

Summing Up

Having looked over the main features, what do I really think of the desk? For the most part, I have to say I like it. The signal path is as clean as most other well‑designed, mid‑priced consoles and significantly better than some. Jacks are used for everything bar the mic inputs, which is sensible, and I think the fact that most of these are balanced or ground‑compensated, and that level switching is provided where needed, has a lot to do with maintaining the sound quality.

The whinge list, other than the purely personal comments regarding the EQ facilities, is pretty short: there's no phase channel switch (I occasionally need these when creating unusual effects patches or when dabbling with M&S miking), only one 2‑track machine is catered for (when most people have both a cassette machine and a mastering machine), and the control room headphones cut off the monitors. Other niggles include the buttons — it's very difficult to tell which are up and which are down — and the short faders, which seem rather stiff and coarse by comparison with the very nice, long‑throw Alps faders used on the channels and Groups.

The strong points of the LC's design, as far as I'm concerned, are the overall sound quality, the large number of available inputs, and the easy‑to‑follow but very flexible routing and monitoring systems. Whether you're working with traditional open‑reel or ADAT/DA88 digital recorders, the LC consoles are eminently suitable for 8 or 16‑track recording and could be pushed to 24‑track with very few compromises.

Whether the LC will succeed in its bid for world domination in its price range is another matter. In this range, it has to compete with some very worthy models from Studiomaster, Mackie, and soon the new Tascam 2600, so it isn't going to have an easy ride. It obviously makes sense to compare the quality, prices and facilities of as many models as possible before making up your mind, but if you do settle on the LC, I don't think you'll be in any way disappointed.

Key Features

  • 16, 24 or 32‑channel format (not expandable)
  • In‑Line monitoring, split routing.
  • Group/Direct tape out on each channel.
  • Maximum 82 inputs at mixdown (based on 32‑channel model).
  • Six Aux Send controls routable to eight Aux busses.
  • Line B (Monitor channel) may double as a further stereo Aux send.
  • Four stereo line inputs with faders plus three dedicated stereo returns.
  • Bargraph metering on Groups and main Stereo output.
  • PFL/AFL/Solo system.
  • 3‑band EQ with High Pass filter, shelving high, plus swept mid and bass controls. (Main input channel path only).
  • Additional Submix input for use with external mixer.
  • Insert points on all channels, Groups and both Main Stereo and Submix outputs.
  • External mains PSU.
  • Alps pots and faders; Neutrik connectors.
  • Line‑up oscillator and Talkback system.
  • Studio headphone system.
  • Switchable levels for use with +4dBu or ‑10dBV tape multitrack machines.


  • Mic Equivalent Input Noise ‑129dBu
  • Main Output Noise (all channels routed with input pots or faders down) ‑80dBu or better
  • Distortion (line in to any main output) 0.006% or better


  • Fader Attenuation 90dB or greater
  • Max Aux Send Attenuation 85 dBu or greater
  • Cut Routing Switch Isolation 90dBu or better


  • Nominal Input/Output levels +4dBu
  • Max Output Level +22dBu
  • All line inputs, returns and 2‑Track return accept +4dBu and ‑10dBV levels


  • 16‑channel 160 x 870 x 710m
  • 24‑channel 160 x 1130 x 710mm
  • 16‑channel 160 x 1390 x 710mm


  • Compact but robust.
  • Good overall sound quality.
  • Lots of Aux sends.
  • Lots of inputs.
  • Flexible routing and monitoring.
  • Competitive price.
  • Clear, concise manual.


  • 3‑band EQ; not splittable or switchable to monitor inputs.
  • Only one 2‑track catered for.
  • Difficult to tell whether buttons are up or down.


A generally well thought out and flexible mixer suitable for use in small studios where the need for professional results runs alongside an equally powerful need for fiscal restraint!